Man and Wife, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter the Thirty-Second.

Seeds of the Future (Second Sowing).

AND what did the visitors say of the Swans?

They said, “Oh, what a number of them!”— which was all that was to be said by persons ignorant of the natural history of aquatic birds.

And what did the visitors say of the lake?

Some of them said, “How solemn!” Some of them said, “How romantic!” Some of them said nothing — but privately thought it a dismal scene.

Here again the popular sentiment struck the right note at starting. The lake was hidden in the centre of a fir wood. Except in the middle, where the sunlight reached them, the waters lay black under the sombre shadow of the trees. The one break in the plantation was at the farther end of the lake. The one sign of movement and life to be seen was the ghostly gliding of the swans on the dead-still surface of the water. It was solemn — as they said; it was romantic — as they said. It was dismal — as they thought. Pages of description could express no more. Let pages of description be absent, therefore, in this place.

Having satiated itself with the swans, having exhausted the lake, the general curiosity reverted to the break in the trees at the farther end — remarked a startlingly artificial object, intruding itself on the scene, in the shape of a large red curtain, which hung between two of the tallest firs, and closed the prospect beyond from view — requested an explanation of the curtain from Julius Delamayn — and received for answer that the mystery should be revealed on the arrival of his wife with the tardy remainder of the guests who had loitered about the house.

On the appearance of Mrs. Delamayn and the stragglers, the united party coasted the shore of the lake, and stood assembled in front of the curtain. Pointing to the silken cords hanging at either side of it, Julius Delamayn picked out two little girls (children of his wife’s sister), and sent them to the cords, with instructions to pull, and see what happened. The nieces of Julius pulled with the eager hands of children in the presence of a mystery — the curtains parted in the middle, and a cry of universal astonishment and delight saluted the scene revealed to view.

At the end of a broad avenue of firs a cool green glade spread its grassy carpet in the midst of the surrounding plantation. The ground at the farther end of the glade rose; and here, on the lower slopes, a bright little spring of water bubbled out between gray old granite rocks.

Along the right-hand edge of the turf ran a row of tables, arrayed in spotless white, and covered with refreshments waiting for the guests. On the opposite side was a band of music, which burst into harmony at the moment when the curtains were drawn. Looking back through the avenue, the eye caught a distant glimpse of the lake, where the sunlight played on the water, and the plumage of the gliding swans flashed softly in brilliant white. Such was the charming surprise which Julius Delamayn had arranged for his friends. It was only at moments like these — or when he and his wife were playing Sonatas in the modest little music-room at Swanhaven — that Lord Holchester’s eldest son was really happy. He secretly groaned over the duties which his position as a landed gentleman imposed upon him; and he suffered under some of the highest privileges of his rank and station as under social martyrdom in its cruelest form.

“We’ll dine first,” said Julius, “and dance afterward. There is the programme!”

He led the way to the tables, with the two ladies nearest to him — utterly careless whether they were or were not among the ladies of the highest rank then present. To Lady Lundie’s astonishment he took the first seat he came to, without appearing to care what place he occupied at his own feast. The guests, following his example, sat where they pleased, reckless of precedents and dignities. Mrs. Delamayn, feeling a special interest in a young lady who was shortly to be a bride, took Blanche’s arm. Lady Lundie attached herself resolutely to her hostess on the other side. The three sat together. Mrs. Delamayn did her best to encourage Blanche to talk, and Blanche did her best to meet the advances made to her. The experiment succeeded but poorly on either side. Mrs. Delamayn gave it up in despair, and turned to Lady Lundie, with a strong suspicion that some unpleasant subject of reflection was preying privately on the bride’s mind. The conclusion was soundly drawn. Blanche’s little outbreak of temper with her friend on the terrace, and Blanche’s present deficiency of gayety and spirit, were attributable to the same cause. She hid it from her uncle, she hid it from Arnold — but she was as anxious as ever, and as wretched as ever, about Anne; and she was still on the watch (no matter what Sir Patrick might say or do) to seize the first opportunity of renewing the search for her lost friend.

Meanwhile the eating, the drinking, and the talking went merrily on. The band played its liveliest melodies; the servants kept the glasses constantly filled: round all the tables gayety and freedom reigned supreme. The one conversation in progress, in which the talkers were not in social harmony with each other, was the conversation at Blanche’s side, between her step-mother and Mrs. Delamayn.

Among Lady Lundie’s other accomplishments the power of making disagreeable discoveries ranked high. At the dinner in the glade she had not failed to notice — what every body else had passed over — the absence at the festival of the hostess’s brother-in-law; and more remarkable still, the disappearance of a lady who was actually one of the guests staying in the house: in plainer words, the disappearance of Mrs. Glenarm.

“Am I mistaken?” said her ladyship, lifting her eye-glass, and looking round the tables. “Surely there is a member of our party missing? I don’t see Mr. Geoffrey Delamayn.”

“Geoffrey promised to be here. But he is not particularly attentive, as you may have noticed, to keeping engagements of this sort. Every thing is sacrificed to his training. We only see him at rare intervals now.”

With that reply Mrs. Delamayn attempted to change the subject. Lady Lundie lifted her eye-glass, and looked round the tables for the second time.

“Pardon me,” persisted her ladyship —“but is it possible that I have discovered another absentee? I don’t see Mrs. Glenarm. Yet surely she must be here! Mrs. Glenarm is not training for a foot-race. Do you see her? I don’t.”

“I missed her when we went out on the terrace, and I have not seen her since.”

“Isn’t it very odd, dear Mrs. Delamayn?”

“Our guests at Swanhaven, Lady Lundie, have perfect liberty to do as they please.”

In those words Mrs. Delamayn (as she fondly imagined) dismissed the subject. But Lady Lundie’s robust curiosity proved unassailable by even the broadest hint. Carried away, in all probability, by the infection of merriment about her, her ladyship displayed unexpected reserves of vivacity. The mind declines to realize it; but it is not the less true that this majestic woman actually simpered!

“Shall we put two and two together?” said Lady Lundie, with a ponderous playfulness wonderful to see. “Here, on the one hand, is Mr. Geoffrey Delamayn — a young single man. And here, on the other, is Mrs. Glenarm — a young widow. Rank on the side of the young single man; riches on the side of the young widow. And both mysteriously absent at the same time, from the same pleasant party. Ha, Mrs. Delamayn! should I guess wrong, if I guessed that you will have a marriage in the family, too, before long?”

Mrs. Delamayn looked a little annoyed. She had entered, with all her heart, into the conspiracy for making a match between Geoffrey and Mrs. Glenarm. But she was not prepared to own that the lady’s facility had (in spite of all attempts to conceal it from discovery) made the conspiracy obviously successful in ten days’ time.

“I am not in the secrets of the lady and gentleman whom you mention,” she replied, dryly.

A heavy body is slow to acquire movement — and slow to abandon movement, when once acquired. The playfulness of Lady Lundie, being essentially heavy, followed the same rule. She still persisted in being as lively as ever.

“Oh, what a diplomatic answer!” exclaimed her ladyship. “I think I can interpret it, though, for all that. A little bird tells me that I shall see a Mrs. Geoffrey Delamayn in London, next season. And I, for one, shall not be surprised to find myself congratulating Mrs. Glenarm.”

“If you persist in letting your imagination run away with you, Lady Lundie, I can’t possibly help it. I can only request permission to keep the bridle on mine.

This time, even Lady Lundie understood that it would be wise to say no more. She smiled and nodded, in high private approval of her own extraordinary cleverness. If she had been asked at that moment who was the most brilliant Englishwoman living, she would have looked inward on herself — and would have seen, as in a glass brightly, Lady Lundie, of Windygates.

From the moment when the talk at her side entered on the subject of Geoffrey Delamayn and Mrs. Glenarm — and throughout the brief period during which it remained occupied with that topic — Blanche became conscious of a strong smell of some spirituous liquor wafted down on her, as she fancied, from behind and from above. Finding the odor grow stronger and stronger, she looked round to see whether any special manufacture of grog was proceeding inexplicably at the back of her chair. The moment she moved her head, her attention was claimed by a pair of tremulous gouty old hands, offering her a grouse pie, profusely sprinkled with truffles.

“Eh, my bonny Miss!” whispered a persuasive voice at her ear, “ye’re joost stairving in a land o’ plenty. Tak’ my advice, and ye’ll tak’ the best thing at tebble — groose-poy, and trufflers.”

Blanche looked up.

There he was — the man of the canny eye, the fatherly manner, and the mighty nose — Bishopriggs — preserved in spirits and ministering at the festival at Swanhaven Lodge!

Blanche had only seen him for a moment on the memorable night of the storm, when she had surprised Anne at the inn. But instants passed in the society of Bishopriggs were as good as hours spent in the company of inferior men. Blanche instantly recognized him; instantly called to mind Sir Patrick’s conviction that he was in possession of Anne’s lost letter; instantly rushed to the conclusion that, in discovering Bishopriggs, she had discovered a chance of tracing Anne. Her first impulse was to claim acquaintance with him on the spot. But the eyes of her neighbors were on her, warning her to wait. She took a little of the pie, and looked hard at Bishopriggs. That discreet man, showing no sign of recognition on his side, bowed respectfully, and went on round the table.

“I wonder whether he has got the letter about him?” thought Blanche.

He had not only got the letter about him — but, more than that, he was actually then on the look-out for the means of turning the letter to profitable pecuniary account.

The domestic establishment of Swanhaven Lodge included no formidable array of servants. When Mrs. Delamayn gave a large party, she depended for such additional assistance as was needed partly on the contributions of her friends, partly on the resources of the principal inn at Kirkandrew. Mr. Bishopriggs, serving at the time (in the absence of any better employment) as a supernumerary at the inn, made one among the waiters who could be spared to assist at the garden-party. The name of the gentleman by whom he was to be employed for the day had struck him, when he first heard it, as having a familiar sound. He had made his inquiries; and had then betaken himself for additional information, to the letter which he had picked up from the parlor floor at Craig Fernie.

The sheet of note-paper, lost by Anne, contained, it may be remembered, two letters — one signed by herself; the other signed by Geoffrey — and both suggestive, to a stranger’s eye, of relations between the writers which they were interested in concealing from the public view.

Thinking it just possible — if he kept his eyes and ears well open at Swanhaven — that he might improve his prospect of making a marketable commodity of the stolen correspondence, Mr. Bishopriggs had put the letter in his pocket when he left Kirkandrew. He had recognized Blanche, as a friend of the lady at the inn — and as a person who might perhaps be turned to account, in that capacity. And he had, moreover, heard every word of the conversation between Lady Lundie and Mrs. Delamayn on the subject of Geoffrey and Mrs. Glenarm. There were hours to be passed before the guests would retire, and before the waiters would be dismissed. The conviction was strong in the mind of Mr. Bishopriggs that he might find good reason yet for congratulating himself on the chance which had associated him with the festivities at Swanhaven Lodge.

It was still early in the afternoon when the gayety at the dinner-table began, in certain quarters, to show signs of wearing out.

The younger members of the party — especially the ladies — grew restless with the appearance of the dessert. One after another they looked longingly at the smooth level of elastic turf in the middle of the glade. One after another they beat time absently with their fingers to the waltz which the musicians happened to be playing at the moment. Noticing these symptoms, Mrs. Delamayn set the example of rising; and her husband sent a message to the band. In ten minutes more the first quadrille was in progress on the grass; the spectators were picturesquely grouped round, looking on; and the servants and waiters, no longer wanted, had retired out of sight, to a picnic of their own.

The last person to leave the deserted tables was the venerable Bishopriggs. He alone, of the men in attendance, had contrived to combine a sufficient appearance of waiting on the company with a clandestine attention to his own personal need of refreshment. Instead of hurrying away to the servants’ dinner with the rest, he made the round of the tables, apparently clearing away the crumbs — actually, emptying the wine-glasses. Immersed in this occupation, he was startled by a lady’s voice behind him, and, turning as quickly as he could, found himself face to face with Miss Lundie.

“I want some cold water,” said Blanche. “Be so good as to get me some from the spring.”

She pointed to the bubbling rivulet at the farther end of the glade.

Bishopriggs looked unaffectedly shocked.

“Lord’s sake, miss,” he exclaimed “d’ye relly mean to offend yer stomach wi’ cauld water — when there’s wine to be had for the asking!”

Blanche gave him a look. Slowness of perception was not on the list of the failings of Bishopriggs. He took up a tumbler, winked with his one available eye, and led the way to the rivulet. There was nothing remarkable in the spectacle of a young lady who wanted a glass of spring-water, or of a waiter who was getting it for her. Nobody was surprised; and (with the band playing) nobody could by any chance overhear what might be said at the spring-side.

“Do you remember me at the inn on the night of the storm?” asked Blanche.

Mr. Bishopriggs had his reasons (carefully inclosed in his pocketbook) for not being too ready to commit himself with Blanche at starting.

“I’m no’ saying I canna remember ye, miss. Whar’s the man would mak’ sic an answer as that to a bonny young leddy like you?”

By way of assisting his memory Blanche took out her purse. Bishopriggs became absorbed in the scenery. He looked at the running water with the eye of a man who thoroughly distrusted it, viewed as a beverage.

“There ye go,” he said, addressing himself to the rivulet, “bubblin’ to yer ain annihilation in the loch yonder! It’s little I know that’s gude aboot ye, in yer unconvairted state. Ye’re a type o’ human life, they say. I tak’ up my testimony against that. Ye’re a type o’ naething at all till ye’re heated wi’ fire, and sweetened wi’ sugar, and strengthened wi’ whusky; and then ye’re a type o’ toddy — and human life (I grant it) has got something to say to ye in that capacity!”

“I have heard more about you, since I was at the inn,” proceeded Blanche, “than you may suppose.” (She opened her purse: Mr. Bishopriggs became the picture of attention.) “You were very, very kind to a lady who was staying at Craig Fernie,” she went on, earnestly. “I know that you have lost your place at the inn, because you gave all your attention to that lady. She is my dearest friend, Mr. Bishopriggs. I want to thank you. I do thank you. Please accept what I have got here?”

All the girl’s heart was in her eyes and in her voice as she emptied her purse into the gouty (and greedy) old hand of Bishopriggs.

A young lady with a well-filled purse (no matter how rich the young lady may be) is a combination not often witnessed in any country on the civilized earth. Either the money is always spent, or the money has been forgotten on the toilet-table at home. Blanche’s purse contained a sovereign and some six or seven shillings in silver. As pocket-money for an heiress it was contemptible. But as a gratuity to Bishopriggs it was magnificent. The old rascal put the money into his pocket with one hand, and dashed away the tears of sensibility, which he had not shed, with the other.

“Cast yer bread on the waters,” cried Mr. Bishopriggs, with his one eye raised devotionally to the sky, “and ye sall find it again after monny days! Heeh! hech! didna I say when I first set eyes on that puir leddy, ‘I feel like a fether to ye?’ It’s seemply mairvelous to see hoo a man’s ain gude deeds find him oot in this lower warld o’ ours. If ever I heard the voice o’ naitural affection speaking in my ain breast,” pursued Mr. Bishopriggs, with his eye fixed in uneasy expectation on Blanche, “it joost spak’ trumpet-tongued when that winsome creature first lookit at me. Will it be she now that told ye of the wee bit sairvice I rendered to her in the time when I was in bondage at the hottle?”

“Yes — she told me herself.”

“Might I mak’ sae bauld as to ask whar’ she may be at the present time?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Bishopriggs. I am more miserable about it than I can say. She has gone away — and I don’t know where.”

“Ow! ow! that’s bad. And the bit husband-creature danglin’ at her petticoat’s tail one day, and awa’ wi’ the sunrise next mornin’— have they baith taken leg-bail together?”

“I know nothing of him; I never saw him. You saw him. Tell me — what was he like?”

“Eh! he was joost a puir weak creature. Didn’t know a glass o’ good sherry-wine when he’d got it. Free wi’ the siller — that’s a’ ye can say for him — free wi’ the siller!”

Finding it impossible to extract from Mr. Bishopriggs any clearer description of the man who had been with Anne at the inn than this, Blanche approached the main object of the interview. Too anxious to waste time in circumlocution, she turned the conversation at once to the delicate and doubtful subject of the lost letter.

“There is something else that I want to say to you,” she resumed. “My friend had a loss while she was staying at the inn.”

The clouds of doubt rolled off the mind of Mr. Bishopriggs. The lady’s friend knew of the lost letter. And, better still, the lady’s friend looked as if she wanted it!

“Ay! ay!” he said, with all due appearance of carelessness. “Like eneugh. From the mistress downward, they’re a’ kittle cattle at the inn since I’ve left ’em. What may it ha’ been that she lost?”

“She lost a letter.”

The look of uneasy expectation reappeared in the eye of Mr. Bishopriggs. It was a question — and a serious question, from his point of view — whether any suspicion of theft was attached to the disappearance of the letter.

“When ye say ‘lost,’” he asked, “d’ye mean stolen?”

Blanche was quite quick enough to see the necessity of quieting his mind on this point.

“Oh no!” she answered. “Not stolen. Only lost. Did you hear about it?”

“Wherefore suld I ha’ heard aboot it?” He looked hard at Blanche — and detected a momentary hesitation in her face. “Tell me this, my young leddy,” he went on, advancing warily near to the point. “When ye’re speering for news o’ your friend’s lost letter — what sets ye on comin’ to me?

Those words were decisive. It is hardly too much to say that Blanche’s future depended on Blanche’s answer to that question.

If she could have produced the money; and if she had said, boldly, “You have got the letter, Mr. Bishopriggs: I pledge my word that no questions shall be asked, and I offer you ten pounds for it”— in all probability the bargain would have been struck; and the whole course of coming events would, in that case, have been altered. But she had no money left; and there were no friends, in the circle at Swanhaven, to whom she could apply, without being misinterpreted, for a loan of ten pounds, to be privately intrusted to her on the spot. Under stress of sheer necessity Blanche abandoned all hope of making any present appeal of a pecuniary nature to the confidence of Bishopriggs.

The one other way of attaining her object that she could see was to arm herself with the influence of Sir Patrick’s name. A man, placed in her position, would have thought it mere madness to venture on such a risk as this. But Blanche — with one act of rashness already on her conscience — rushed, woman-like, straight to the commission of another. The same headlong eagerness to reach her end, which had hurried her into questioning Geoffrey before he left Windygates, now drove her, just as recklessly, into taking the management of Bishopriggs out of Sir Patrick’s skilled and practiced hands. The starving sisterly love in her hungered for a trace of Anne. Her heart whispered, Risk it! And Blanche risked it on the spot.

“Sir Patrick set me on coming to you,” she said.

The opening hand of Mr. Bishopriggs — ready to deliver the letter, and receive the reward — closed again instantly as she spoke those words.

“Sir Paitrick?” he repeated “Ow! ow! ye’ve een tauld Sir Paitrick aboot it, have ye? There’s a chiel wi’ a lang head on his shouthers, if ever there was ane yet! What might Sir Paitrick ha’ said?”

Blanche noticed a change in his tone. Blanche was rigidly careful (when it was too late) to answer him in guarded terms.

“Sir Patrick thought you might have found the letter,” she said, “and might not have remembered about it again until after you had left the inn.”

Bishopriggs looked back into his own personal experience of his old master — and drew the correct conclusion that Sir Patrick’s view of his connection with the disappearance of the letter was not the purely unsuspicious view reported by Blanche. “The dour auld deevil,” he thought to himself, “knows me better than that!

“Well?” asked Blanche, impatiently. “Is Sir Patrick right?”

“Richt?” rejoined Bishopriggs, briskly. “He’s as far awa’ from the truth as John o’ Groat’s House is from Jericho.”

“You know nothing of the letter?”

“Deil a bit I know o’ the letter. The first I ha’ heard o’ it is what I hear noo.”

Blanche’s heart sank within her. Had she defeated her own object, and cut the ground from under Sir Patrick’s feet, for the second time? Surely not! There was unquestionably a chance, on this occasion, that the man might be prevailed upon to place the trust in her uncle which he was too cautious to confide to a stranger like herself. The one wise thing to do now was to pave the way for the exertion of Sir Patrick’s superior influence, and Sir Patrick’s superior skill. She resumed the conversation with that object in view.

“I am sorry to hear that Sir Patrick has guessed wrong,” she resumed. “My friend was anxious to recover the letter when I last saw her; and I hoped to hear news of it from you. However, right or wrong, Sir Patrick has some reasons for wishing to see you — and I take the opportunity of telling you so. He has left a letter to wait for you at the Craig Fernie inn.”

“I’m thinking the letter will ha’ lang eneugh to wait, if it waits till I gae back for it to the hottle,” remarked Bishopriggs.

“In that case,” said Blanche, promptly, “you had better give me an address at which Sir Patrick can write to you. You wouldn’t, I suppose, wish me to say that I had seen you here, and that you refused to communicate with him?”

“Never think it!” cried Bishopriggs, fervently. “If there’s ain thing mair than anither that I’m carefu’ to presairve intact, it’s joost the respectful attention that I owe to Sir Paitrick. I’ll make sae bauld, miss, au to chairge ye wi’ that bit caird. I’m no’ settled in ony place yet (mair’s the pity at my time o’ life!), but Sir Paitrick may hear o’ me, when Sir Paitrick has need o’ me, there.” He handed a dirty little card to Blanche containing the name and address of a butcher in Edinburgh. “Sawmuel Bishopriggs,” he went on, glibly. “Care o’ Davie Dow, flesher; Cowgate; Embro. My Patmos in the weelderness, miss, for the time being.”

Blanche received the address with a sense of unspeakable relief. If she had once more ventured on taking Sir Patrick’s place, and once more failed in justifying her rashness by the results, she had at least gained some atoning advantage, this time, by opening a means of communication between her uncle and Bishopriggs. “You will hear from Sir Patrick,” she said, and nodded kindly, and returned to her place among the guests.

“I’ll hear from Sir Paitrick, wull I?” repeated Bishopriggs when he was left by himself. “Sir Paitrick will wark naething less than a meeracle if he finds Sawmuel Bishopriggs at the Cowgate, Embro!”

He laughed softly over his own cleverness; and withdrew to a lonely place in the plantation, in which he could consult the stolen correspondence without fear of being observed by any living creature. Once more the truth had tried to struggle into light, before the day of the marriage, and once more Blanche had innocently helped the darkness to keep it from view.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52